Friday, February 09, 2018

Let’s talk about ‘Women in STEM’


In occasion of the February 11 celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, in Smartmatic we want to open the conversation and bring out one of the many facets of gender diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math): Communication. For instance, how do we talk about women in tech, within and outside the industry? Are we prone to use gender-bias and stigmatising language in the field? How can we start transforming this reality today?

These are issues very close to my heart, as I have developed all my career in Communications, first as a journalist covering technology, and then working for a technology company. Although I will be addressing these ideas on a SXSW panel, titled “Latinas Removing Barriers in Tech”, I give you an advance here.

As Communications Director in Smartmatic, I believe the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, as well as the upcoming International Women's Day (March 8), become excellent opportunities to publicly discuss the state of women in the industry. Both celebrations indeed revive my passion for advocating gender parity and diversity in tech.
 
However, I would like to take
@WomenScienceDay this year’s theme “Equality and Parity in Science for Peace and Development,” to call for action in a particular doable issue: evaluating and improving our discourse on women in tech. We firmly believe that diversity and equality are part of the foundations for achieving sustainable development. However, we have to start seeding first our own backyard. So here I am.

Believe me; I am thrilled that the global conversation in recent years, online and offline, has taken up and embraced women crusades. Movements such as #MeToo, #WomensMarch, #WomenInSTEM, among others, are empowering many of us to speak our minds, lead the change we want to see and make more female voices be heard and respected. But are those enough? Probably not, if we do not start a joint pledge to improve the way we talk about women in tech, in our daily routines.

Hence, I am sharing five practical ways to start refining right away our narrative on the subject.  Inspiration comes from extraordinary colleagues working on equality and parity in tech, along with several thought-provoking articles released on the issue around this time of the year. For instance, please have a look at these recent two pieces, full of interesting references: “The real problem with women in tech efforts is the unhelpful way we talk about the issue,” in Mashable and Data does not lie: tech firms need to hire more women to succeed in Wired.

Needless to say, these actions are non-exclusive to women. They are meant to ignite the debate across all stakeholders, functions and hierarchies in our organisations.

 1.      Be informed

Regardless of whether you are a known speaker at a national conference or a level entry collaborator talking with some co-workers in a coffee break, be always ready. Read about the topic, discuss it honestly and debunk myths you know only harm diversity and parity. Work on sharing more and better statistics about women productivity, participation and achievements in the STEM. Moreover, be aware of how worthy it is for the industry and society that you speak your mind and talk about your own experiences in the field.

2. Show empathy

Getting to know the struggles of women in tech will give you powerful tools to generate awareness, convince colleagues and improve the situation form a more sensitive perspective.  It is essential to understand the causes and consequences of problems and how you can deliver solutions. Show you can “wear the other’s shoes”, and more significantly, listen and learn with the heart. I loved this advice and lessons about supporting and empowering other women in tech, from a personal and emotional perspective.

3. Be committed

Start leading the change. Every battle starts with each of us believing we can transform and advance ‘the way of thinking’ and ‘the way of doing’ in our organisations. It is within each woman in the technology fields to propose advancements, outline demands and help her company to commit to a more diverse and balanced gender environment. One exciting route to start the journey could be committing to the SDGs (UN Sustainable Development Goals) and showcasing the benefits of gender diversity for Peace and Development. Enjoy the global momentum to become an advocate.
The challenge is a great one: shape new organisational culture and challenge gender norms. Not easy for sure, but if you are a woman in tech, I am sure you are already up for the challenge.

4. Empower other women

In a male-dominated field, sorority and support among women become vital. When addressing the issue of women in tech, remember to be supportive, share knowledge, give credit, and offer advice to other females. It could be beneficial to share your story, thus encouraging others to take risks. Similarly, mentors can be of significant help and inspiration. Look for a mentor if you are starting your journey, or start a mentorship or volunteer program if you have a longstanding professional career. Choosing female technologist role models when communicating news and developments, could not only create opportunities for women in the industry, but it could also attract and engage more girls and young women into the field.

5. Innovate

We are living in a world in which innovation is paramount for development and sustainability. However, particularly among technology companies and executives, it is time to start focusing innovation with equality and diversity in mind. Being innovative, not only from a theoretical and technical perspective but from an emotional and human behavioural point of view, is critical.  After all, this is what technology is all about! The first step might be in recognising that increasing participation of women in STEM will lead to technology solutions that better serve the expectations of more diverse and global societies.
Samira Saba 
Communications Director